Acts 5 - Ananias and Sapphira

Acts 5 – August 3

Today we read the chilling account of the death of two members of the early church. There are several aspects that I would like to note that will hopefully bring both clarity and comfort. First, notice that Ananias and Sapphira both had opportunities to repent. Ananias could have come clean as he was presenting the money to Peter. And in verse 8 Peter also he asked Saphira, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 

A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be more holy than they really are. God hates that. He opposes the proud. But there is grace for those who see themselves as sinners in need of forgiveness.  

Consider the messenger in this story. Peter is the one that the Holy Spirit used to verbally condemn this conniving couple. He accused both of them of lying. But, Peter himself lied when he denied Christ three times, even declaring with a curse that he did not know the man. So, what is the difference? Why is it that Peter was spared and these two were struck dead? Part of the answer is repentance. When offered the opportunity to confess and repent, Peter did so before the Lord and was forgiven. Ananias and Sapphira stuck to their guns and hoped for earthly accolades, and instead, they will eternally be remembered as the hypocrites who lied to the Holy Spirit. 

Yes, that is what Peter says. As we learn in Psalm, all sin is primarily directed at God. Although other people are affected negatively by the scattershot of our sin, the bullet is aimed at God Himself. This is why David says, “Against you and you alone have I sinned,” even though Bathsheba and Uriah and the entire nation, and especially his own son were dramatically affected as collateral damage. 

When you sin, you hurt the church. There is no such thing as a private or personal sin. It pollutes the church. It breaks the unity of the church. It brings sin into the camp which results in God’s eventual judgment of the church. Your sin affects all of us, and my sin affects you. But primarily, your sin is against God and drags the name of Jesus through the mud. 

This text is ultimately not about lying, although it should cause you to seek to be more honest. It is not really about generosity, although I encourage you to be faithful in your giving. It is ultimately not even about hypocrisy, although I hope that I have faithfully demonstrated that you should not be a hypocrite. This story is really all about the holiness of God. 

I have a good friend who is a civilian but trains military units in the Middle East a few times a year. One of the most interesting things he ever told me was about the city of Bahrain. There is a saying that Allah cannot see what happens in Bahrain. His eyes don’t reach that place. So, that is like the Las Vegas of the Muslim world. It is where all of the deepest forms of darkness are practiced. They change what they wear, what they eat, the words they say, and the people they sleep with just because they think they are outside the scope of their god’s vision. 

We can look at that and say, “That is absurd!” But that is precisely what we do every time we knowingly pursue sin. We lie thinking that God does not hear. We click on a link thinking that God does not see it. We act as though there are boundaries that God will not cross to look into our lives. Just like Ananias and Sapphira, we sin because we are only focused on getting away with something in the eyes of man. Hebrews 4:13, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

 God saw the numbers on Ananias’ contract, and he heard him seal the deal, and he watched him shake the buyer’s hand. Just like He sees your browser history, hears you yelling at your spouse, and watches you deceive your friends into thinking you are something that you are not. Not only does God really see you, but He also is not like you. The word ‘holiness’ means something like ‘otherness.’ It is God’s differentness, His separateness, His not-you-ness. He is altogether different from us. He is absolutely void of sin, or even the desire for sin. He is pure and blameless. He is excellent in virtue. His morality is beyond comparison. His goodness is unparalleled. His righteousness is without spot or shadow of turning. His honor is unblemished. His integrity is eternally intact. That is not like you or me.  

It should not be surprising that God killed two people who sinned in this way. It should be surprising that God does not do that more often. When we sin, we are not just playing with fire. We are sinning against the all-consuming fire who made the universe and all that is in it. There are no little sins. Every one of them matters to the Lord. You will only understand God’s act of judgment in this chapter if you first understand that God is absolutely within his rights to destroy anyone who sins even one time. He cannot lower His standards. He is perfect, and He requires perfection. This should remind us of the depths of grace that we have received from Him.

Why is it that God chose to dramatically end the lives of these two people at this moment, but does not choose to do that all the time? Allow me to offer a possible reason. As a new and burgeoning church, it was vital that the Lord set a precedent that sin was not to be taken lightly. In a sense, this was the very first occasion of church discipline. Normally, God calls us to keep one another in check by way of accountability through church discipline. However, in this instance, God saw fit to strike these two down as an example. And the result is evident as we read in verse 11, “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” When practiced rightly, that is what all church discipline is supposed to do. It is to remind us that we are called to live holy lives before the Lord. We see the apostles carry out church discipline from that point forward, and Paul gives instructions about how churches are supposed to carry it out in 1 Cor. 5, among other places. 

As an aside, many have speculated on the state of the salvation of Ananias and Sapphira. Were they actually Christians who messed up? Or were they unbelievers who had faked their testimonies well enough to make it into the church? And the answer is… I don’t know. I find compelling arguments on both sides. However, it ultimately does not matter, and that is why the Scripture never tells us. Perhaps God was killing goats to protect the sheep. Perhaps he was killing sheep to protect the other sheep. This was a warning to the early church, and it is a warning to us that God cares deeply about the holiness of His church. Let us live accordingly.